Lesson 4: Living By Our Faithfulness Habakkuk 2:1-4
In the time of Habakkuk, evil and immorality had become common among God’s covenant people. Foreign powers were invading their cities. Jeremiah was warning of God’s coming judgment. The Prophet Habakkuk was confused. How could a Holy God, allow such oppression and evil to continue? But Habakkuk’s confusion was not doubt. His unfailing trust in the truth of God drove him to the Lord for answers.
God’s answer is recorded in 1:5-11. He was at work even if the Prophet was not seeing what He was doing. God had warned Israel long ago that if they rebelled He would bring judgment upon them by a foreign heathen nation. Habakkuk responded by confessing his trust in the unfailing promises and power of the Sovereign God. (1:12).
Yet the prophet’s confusion continued (1:13-17). He struggled to understand how it all fit together. Why did God seem to look with favor on those who deal treacherously? His holiness should make that impossible. He wondered why God seemed silent when the wicked swallowed up those more righteous? However, God’s seeming silence was not really silence at all. God had already spoken very clearly in His word.
It appeared to the confused Prophet that God had made men like fish where they had no ruler to protect and shelter them from brutal enemies. Would the wicked ones continue to slay the other nations? The conversation continued in Habakkuk 2:1-4.
The Prophet waited eagerly to hear from God.
Habakkuk 1:1, “I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am corrected.”
Habakkuk pledged to kept watch to see what God would say. He used the symbolism of a rampart, a lookout enclosure where a sentinel would watch for the advance of troops. The Hebrew word here is “ma-tsur” (מצוּר) which is a protective enclosure, an entrenchment, sometimes a tower. It doesn’t necessarily mean a physical place. More likely he meant it purely figuratively. He waited for God’s response with the same eager anticipation of a child sitting at the window looking out at the street waiting for expected friends to come.
He watched with diligent expectation. He wanted to know God’s answer to his questions. He fully expected and wanted “correction”, “reproof” to clear up his confusion.
The Lord answered the real issue behind the questions.
Habakkuk 2:2, “Then the LORD answered me and said: ” Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it.”
The Lord commanded him to write the vision so others can read it. The message (revelation, vision) was not for Habakkuk alone. He was to get it down on tablets clearly so that the one reading it may run as a sentinel would to warn others. The idea that it should be able to be read while running departs from the metaphor. That interpretation does not fit the primary concern of the Prophet who saw dangers and wanted to know how to deal with them, and how he should direct God’s people.
God was not always going to speak to men with visions and other special revelations. He intended His word to be put into written form to preserve it for other times. Today we don’t look for God to speak to us supernaturally. We are told to search the Scriptures for God’s word and comfort.
The Holy Spirit operates in our era through Scripture, not by private revelation. Ephesians 6:17 tells us to, “take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
The Spirit’s weapon is not supernatural voices or private visions. It’s the written Word of God. With this sword the Holy Spirit guards us from the evil one, and pierces the heart when we stray or lean to our own understanding. It brings God’s children to an understanding of what is good, glorious, and true.
The Bible was inspired and preserved for our understanding. In 2 Timothy 3:15-17 Paul reminded Timothy, “… from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The “Scriptures” Timothy had as a child were the preserved copies of the books of the Old Testament. He was sent to the words of Moses, David, Solomon, and the Prophet Habakkuk. These books, and all those of the Bible, are there to remind us in this present age about God’s moral principles, promises, and glory.
There is a dangerous trend today where people listen to mystical inner voices believing them to be God speaking to them. Now that we have a complete, finished Bible these special revelations have ceased. We are to look to the preserved Word of God through which the Holy Spirit guides and instructs us. Our own subjective judgment about things we think God is saying outside of Scripture cannot be tested objectively. They lead us to believe things untrue, and to do things not pleasing to our Creator.
We need to be cautious of any idea that cannot be tested by Scripture. If it contradicts Scripture or violates its principles, we should run from it as we would from Satan himself.
The Lord explained the reason for this writing.
Habakkuk 2:3, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.”
The prophecy was for an appointed time in God’s plan. That is, it had a fulfillment which was yet future at the moment God spoke to Habakkuk.
The next expression is translated in various ways. More literally it reads, “it breaths (longingly) toward the end of something.” Some translate it as if it refers to the speaking (breathing out) of the message which will be reserved for the end where it will become clear. Others take it to be a panting toward some particular end as if hurrying toward it, longing for it. This second meaning agrees more with the Hebrew jussive form of the verb and its most normal meaning. Most agree that the end or goal in mind is the final victory of Christ, the Messiah, which is a major focus of human history.
The isolated political events, moral judgments, tests, and trials of every era are part of the building of the church as it moves toward its final union in Christ. All is moving longingly toward that pivotal event where the accomplished redemption is fully applied in earthy time.
Next we are assured that though the vision may not be fulfilled immediately, we are to wait for it. It will surely take place. It will not fail (ie. not be false). This written message by Habakkuk will preserve God’s assurance until it is time for it to be fulfilled. It is not to be limited to the time of Habakkuk’s inquiry. It’s a message which was intended to endure throughout human history.
At times God’s judgment seems to be withheld. Evil appears to be spreading around us and in our midst uncontrolled like some dreaded incurable disease. But that is not the case. This message in Habakkuk is still helpful for us today.
The central message of God’s answer is found in verse 4.
Habakkuk 2:4, “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.”
The clarifying focus here is a contrast.
First, God explains the tragic attitude of the person who is proud. The word translated as “proud” [“aphal” (עפל)] means something puffed up or swelled. When applied in geography it means “a hill” which is like a swelling of the ground. When applied to a person it has to do with his being swelled up by his own importance. He is arrogant, and puts himself first.
It says that his soul is not “upright” in him. Literally, it is not “straight”. There is something deeply twisted and wrong within him. He is not as alright as he may think of himself, or as he may appear. He looks to his own strength, and lives for his own pleasure. He looks to himself, and tries to understand everything as he sees it with his perverted, crooked soul.
He is not reliable because he does not trust in God’s promises and provisions of grace. Since his foundation is his own imagined importance and ability, he vacillates as circumstances change. The proud person will be disappointed because he cannot succeed in advancing his delusional dreams and aspirations. He believes he is smarter and more able than those resting in God’s word.
The Lord recognizes his inner evil for what it really is. He will be judged for his arrogance, for putting himself as a creature above the glory and power of his Creator (Romans 1:25).
Next, He describes the attitude of those who are justified, the righteous. The righteous person will be living by his faith.
The word translated “faith” is emuhah (אמונה), which means, “firmness, steadfastness, fidelity, steadiness”. It’s related to the word “amen” (אמן) which is a declaration that something is true or reliable. We add that to the end of our prayers as we confirm the truth of our prayers and of the promises they rest upon. When we have faith, we are trusting that something is true and reliable. We rest confidently, steadfastly, in what God says because we are convinced He is trustworthy.
Faith is not just a feeling, or existential leap in the dark. It’s not just irrationally trusting in something without good cause. It is not just the vague exercise of an undefined trust. It must have an object, something in which it trusts.
John Calvin summarizes the Bible’s information about saving faith in the third book of his Institutes (Inst 3:II:7 end), “(Faith is) … a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”
The righteous person looks to the Lord for his strength. He trusts in God’s promises, and believes what He says about him and about Himself. Since he is clothed by grace with the righteousness of the Savior, he has a firm foundation that cannot fail. He will be held by the unyielding hand of God so he endures even when he does not understand all that God brings into his life. His life is characterized by that steadfast confidence that all God has said and done is reliable. He evidences that he is united in fellowship with his Creator through the work of Christ, and will be blessed as certainly as the promises of God are certain.
He is not just faithful to certain points of doctrine and history. He rests confidently in the atonement promised in the Messiah, the Savior, who would take his place to pay for his debt of sin. His life is characterized by his trust in God. He is content to know that what God permits in his world has a purpose, even when he cannot put it all together to see how evil and tragic things are part of that eternal and good plan.
This verse is quoted directly three times in the New Testament in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38. Those verses translate the Hebrew words into Greek. The literal translation of those verses would be, “the one righteous out of faithfulness will be living.” They are usually translated into more smooth English as, “the just shall live by faith”. This is one of the most primary themes in the Bible.
God’s answer was not what the Prophet expected.
He expected an answer explaining how what he was seeing fit in with the plan held secretly in the mind of God. He knew God used the heathen for his purposes, but why now was he letting this go on for so long?
Instead, God pointed to the very core of human purpose.
Adam was created for the purpose of honoring and obeying God. The detailed reasons behind God’s revealed principles and commandments were hidden from him. He was created to trust in what God had revealed, to accept it as sufficient.
But Adam and Eve wanted more. Satan made a deceitful offer. His words are recorded in Genesis 2:5, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve wanted to know things as God knows them. They became discontent with what God had revealed.
Similarly, Habakkuk wanted to know how to explain the details of how it all fit in with God’s plan. He believed that God was just and holy. He trusted God that evil was permitted for his purposes, but he was troubled that he didn’t see all that was taking place at that time as God sees it.
God reminded him of a fundamental truth built in to His created universe. If he was one of God’s righteous ones, then his responsibility is to rest faithfully in what God was doing. His word may not tell us all we think we need to know. It tells us all God knows we need to know. That is enough.
The proud and arrogant rest in their own strength as their god (1:11). We are to rest in the LORD’s provision, recognizing that God is God. Our life is to be characterized by living faithfully to what He has chosen for us and caused us to know, even though the specifics of His ways are often past finding out.
Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
God’s word tells us a lot. It explains that even evil and the enemies of God’s people are there for a purpose in revealing God’s power, justice, grace, and redemption. The nature of God is displayed clearly in all he made and in all that unfolds in history: his justice, mercy, grace, and wrath. But how each event, victory and tragedy fits in, this we do not need to know. Our duty is to live trusting in the God who provides our righteousness through the Savior.
May God make us faithful to trust Him that He does all things well.
(Bible quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)